A Columbus jury found Rayshondre Gartrell Tarver not guilty of murder in the fatal shootings of two men he claimed set him up for robbery during a marijuana deal, but he will still serve prison time on other charges related to the incident.
Though the jury acquitted Tarver of murder after he claimed self-defense in the the Oct. 7, 2019, deaths of Montrell Johnson, 18, and Terreon Joseph, 17, he still faced up to 10 years in prison on two lesser offenses: Attempting to commit a felony by selling marijuana, and using a firearm to commit a crime.
Accepting the sentence recommended by Assistant District Attorney Robin Anthony, Superior Court Judge Gil McBride sentenced Tarver to 10 years in prison with seven years to serve, and the rest on probation.
That followed spirited arguments from Anthony and defense attorney William Kendrick, who told McBride his client should not be punished for the circumstances under which he killed two men while defending himself.
Anthony argued that Tarver was a drug dealer who regularly carried guns, and that he was out on bond for allegedly having a stolen gun when the homicides happened during a felony drug transaction.
“It’s a very dangerous business to be in,” she told McBride, adding Tarver’s “cavalier attitude” toward drugs and weapons is a threat to the community.
Montrell Johnson’s mother testified that Tarver apparently has a habit of carrying guns.
“Firearms hurt people. Guns hurt people,” said Lisa Johnson, adding, “I feel like he thinks it’s a game that he can walk around with firearms.”
Kendrick later argued that Johnson also had a history, as he was wearing an ankle monitor when Tarver shot him, having been charged with armed robbery. Johnson was found with a malfunctioning gun in his hand, the attorney added.
Kendrick said the two men would have killed Tarver, had he not shot them in self-defense, calling the pair “people who came to rob him not of his things, but of his life.”
Kendrick said a more reasonable sentence for Tarver’s convictions would be two years in prison.
McBride chose the prosecution’s recommendation. “Guns on the street are an epidemic in this city,” the judge said, noting that firearms “do not act on their own.”
Police were called at 11 p.m. to the shooting on 32nd Avenue, where they found a misfired 9-I handgun in Joseph’s right hand, and several .40-caliber shell casings near Johnson’s body.
Detective Dexter Wysinger said his investigation revealed Joseph had been Facebook-messaging Tarver about buying two ounces of marijuana for $450, and they arranged a meeting.
Kendrick said that at the same time Joseph was messaging Tarver, Joseph and Johnson were plotting to rob Tarver.
According to police testimony, Tarver got a ride to the rendezvous on 32nd Avenue, where Joseph was waiting in the street. Tarver showed him an ounce of marijuana, and Joseph was holding the bag when Tarver saw Johnson and realized he had been set up, officers said.
One of the men put a gun in his face, and Tarver pulled out his own gun and started shooting, hitting Joseph once in the chest, and Johnson three times in the head and once in the back, investigators said.
During Tarver’s trial, prosecutors had argued that Georgia law does not allow suspects to claim self-defense if they kill someone while trying to commit a felony. It says no one may use deadly force while “attempting to commit, committing, or fleeing after the commission or attempted commission of a felony.”